As the search continues for new ways to grow The Bahamas’ economy, Mayaguana’s potential contribution towards economic growth should be taken a closer look at. In the previous segment on Mayaguana, the island was described as a “blank slate” for investment. This segment will dive deeper into recent conversations had about transforming the island into a transshipment hub that could service international routes as well as remodeling the local airport to become one of the best airports amongst the southern Family Islands. While conversations about these projects have been around for some time, an attempt to find out the what, why and how is needed.
At a recent local civic meeting, residents of Mayaguana met with a top government advisor who presented on a potential project called ‘Port Mayaguana’. To be clear, this potential project has yet to be pitched or approved by government and is currently a working idea that both government officials and residents of Mayaguana need to collaborate on. But based on research provided in the presentation, project ‘Port Mayaguana’ has the ability to provide a sustainable means of economic growth for the island, and by extension, The Bahamas.
For starters, it was pointed out that Mayaguana’s geographical location is ideal for the island to be transformed into a transshipment hub since it is located in a major shipping lane and requires minimum dredging to be done since it has very easy access to deep waters. The proposed port would be located at the southern part of Betsy Bay and would be owned in its entirety by the Bahamian government.
It was also revealed that since Mayaguana is 40 percent larger than New Providence, this proposed port could mean bigger and better business than the current container port in the capital and in Grand Bahama. Another win for Mayaguana is that there is no constraint on available land, meaning that there would be no legal observations in obtaining land to do this project since the site and surrounding land is 100 percent Crown land (owned by the government).
The island also has a high quality limestone which would enable lower development costs for industrial projects of this kind. While it appears that the proposal has the potential to increase commerce and employment on the island, there are some challenges that may come along as details unfold regarding the funding and development of this venture.
One of the most important considerations of this project is how it would be funded. There are many different vehicles that government can use to fund a project of this size, but a cost has yet to be pinned to this. The government also has to hire a port developer to provide consultation, which would be another cost to consider. Since the government is currently operating at a deficit, borrowing funds to facilitate this venture would have a dampening impact on the current fiscal state.
It was also mentioned that this project in the long run, could provide 5,000 direct and 12,500 indirect jobs. At the moment, Mayaguana does not have enough housing or a trained workforce of this size. It is approximated that the island currently has a population of 200 persons. Therefore, if the project comes into fruition, phase one of it should focus immensely on education and training of local residents along with quickly advocating for Bahamians from other islands to embrace new opportunities on this island. It may not be difficult to find investors that are willing to pay for housing communities and training sessions once things start to kick off on the proposed port. Investors are sure to flock where revenue generating projects are reliable and stable enough to invest in.
The best deal
In a project of this size, the question is always asked, “Who will benefit the most?” Ideally, the ratio of Bahamians vs. foreign workers should be substantially higher. In addition, government should take into consideration local feedback from residents, business owners, environmentalists and local civic groups. It is important for government to also consider allowing Bahamians to have a stake in this proposed historical venture. That way, Bahamians will be more incentivized to ensure that business is always booming.
For quite some time, Mayaguana’s airport has been in need of remodeling. At the meeting, it was revealed that approval was granted by Cabinet for construction of a new terminal building. If construction does follow through, this would be a great start towards economic development on the island. The most well-known investment group pinned to Mayaguana has been the Boston-based I-Group, which proposed a $1.8 billion development back in 2006. The then government, had entered into heads of agreement with Mayaguana Island Developers Limited (MID), which is a joint venture entity owned 50/50 by the government through the Hotel Corporation of The Bahamas (HCB) and the I-Group. It was proposed that there would be a $7 million airport development on the island. But things did not pan out as planned. Without a proper airstrip, making Mayaguana a commercial hub for the southern Family Islands will prove to be difficult.
If everything goes as planned, the best way to describe the outcome of these proposed ventures is a ‘commerce boom’. With a functional container port, an improved airport and a trained workforce, Mayaguana will be on the top of the list of islands in The Bahamas that are definitely worth investing in. Local and international entrepreneurs will be more than incentivized and impressed to do business in The Bahamas. In addition, other tourism projects such as a proper marina and cruise port terminal could be an easy pitch to potential investors once they are able to see the growth and competitive advantage this island could receive. Not only could Mayaguana be a pillar of economic growth for The Bahamas but it will also give competing regional countries such as Puerto Rico and Jamaica, a ‘run for their money’.
• Roderick A. Simms II is an advocate for sustainable Family Islands growth and development. Email: RASII@ME.com.